Malawi has witnessed a dramatic increase in early pregnancies and child marriages since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced schools to close, a civil society group said on Monday.
The Civil Society Coalition on Education director Benedicto Kondwe told AFP that Malawi already had a high rate of child marriages but the pandemic had led to a “surge” in underage unions.
The organization says it had reported at least 5,000 cases of teenage pregnancies in Phalombe district in the nation’s south, and more than 500 girls had been married off following the pandemic.
“Ever since schools closed to help combat the spread of Covid-19, remote areas have reported an increase in child marriages,” Kondwe said.
According to Kondwe, there have also been increases in reports of gender-based violence and various forms of abuse, such as exploitation, against young girls.
“What the figures show is that girls lack the needed protection as they get plunged into the margin of life,” he added.
A district education officer in Nsanje district, also in the south, told a local radio station, Capital Radio, that more than 300 girls fell pregnant since schools closed about four months ago.
Gleston Alindiamawo, the official, faulted parents and guardians for not offering adequate counseling to children while they have been out of school.
Meanwhile, a youth health services coordinator in the eastern district of Mangochi, Peter Malipa, said that the area had recorded a 16 percent increase in teenage pregnancies. The area had recorded 6,235 cases between January and June last year compared to 7,274 cases in a similar period in 2020.
This problem of early pregnancies is not unique to Malawi. In June, a report in Kenya revealed that more than 3,900 underage girls fell pregnant between January and May, a trend linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Officials blame the phenomenon on poor parenting and a failed justice system for an increase in such incidences.